Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Washington Gov and state AG respond forcefully to letter from AG Sessions about marijuana reform concerns
As noted in this prior post, a few weeks ago US Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent letters to the leaders of states with recreational marijuana laws detailing troublesome data that, in the words of these letters, raised "serious questions about the efficacy of marijuana 'regulatory structures'." An example of one such letter can be found here, addressed to Washington's Governor Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Now, as detailed in this local article, headlined "Gov. and AG to Sessions: You are blowing smoke on our marijuana law," there has now been at least one forceful official response to these letters. Here are the basics:
Allegations by Sessions, in a recent letter on Washington's marijuana policy, "are outdated, incorrect, or based on incomplete information," the two state leaders wrote to Sessions. "We have twice requested an in-person meeting with you because we believe it will lead to better understanding than exchanging letters," Inslee and Ferguson wrote to the U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday.
"If we can engage in a more direct dialogue, we might avoid this sort of miscommunication and make progress on the issues that are important to both of us. " Inslee and Ferguson called for both a sit-down with Sessions, and "further appropriate meetings" between state and Dept of Justice officials....
Sessions, in his letter, stressed a 2016 Northwest Drug Trafficking Area report asserting that Washington marijuana has been diverted to "43 other states" and cites 17 explosions at THC extraction laboratories.
Inslee and Ferguson bluntly told Sessions he was blowing smoke. "Your letter fails to clearly acknowledge that this (43 state) statistic covers several years before our recreational sales even began, and reveals nothing about whether the sources of the marijuana were legal or illegal," they wrote. "Again, your intent is for our state-regulated marijuana market to displace and destroy illegal marijuana activity. "
Sessions made charges that Washington's medical marijuana market is "considered 'grey' due to lack of regulation and oversight." Inslee and Ferguson acknowledged that medical marijuana "was not well regulated or supervised" in Washington. Shortly before the 2016 report came out, however, the Legislature passed reform legislation.
"We realigned medical marijuana to bring it within the state's far more stringent recreational system," wrote the Governor and AG. In fact, they told Sessions, a subsequent 2017 report by the feds made clear that "as of July 1, 2016, the long-standing illegally operating dispensaries were shut down or became licensed retailers; sales are now subject to taxation and medical marijuana products now must pass strict packaging and testing requirements before being sold to patients." "Your letter, relying on the old . . . report, ignores this important development."...
"We encourage you to keep in mind why we are having this conversation," Inslee and Ferguson told Sessions. "State and federal prohibition of marijuana failed to prevent its widespread use, which was generating huge profits for violent criminal organizations. "The people of Washington State chose by popular vote to try a different path. Under Washington's system, responsible adults are allowed access to a highly regulated product that returns substantial tax revenues to the government even as it displaces illegal activity."
The full letter from Gov Inslee and state AG Ferguson can be found at this link, and I like that the letter included a request to discuss additional matters with federal officials including:
Whether DOJ will support reasonable federal policies allowing financial institutions to provide service to licensed marijuana businesses, in order to avoid the public safety risks and transparency problems associated with all-cash businesses.
How state-regulated marijuana should be treated by the federal government following the President’s declaration that the opioid crisis constitutes a national emergency, and whether the federal government will support objective, independent research into the effects of marijuana law reform on opioid use and abuse.
August 16, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
The title of this post is the title of this notable new CNBC commentary authored by Gina Belafonte, Chris Leavy and Lindy Snider. Here are excerpts:
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, between 2001 and 2010 there were 8.2 million marijuana related arrests in the county, nearly 90 percent of them were for possession. African Americans were nearly four times as likely to be arrested for possession than whites.
Since California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana two decades ago, 28 others and the District of Columbia have followed suit. Eight states have also legalized adult use. We now have a track record of legal, regulated marijuana in more than half of the country, and clear evidence that it is a better approach than a blanket prohibition and harsh prison sentences for those who use it or participate in its commerce.
A 2014 study from the University of Texas, Dallas using FBI's crime data showed no rise in crime rates resulting from medical marijuana legalization, and even some evidence of decreasing rates of homicide and assault. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, Denver saw a 2.2 percent drop in violent crime rates in the year after the first legal recreational cannabis sales in Colorado, and overall property crime dropped by 8.9 percent in the same period while Washington, which legalized recreational use in 2012, saw violent crime rates drop by 10 percent from 2011 to 2014.
The history of the War on Drugs is also a history of the economic and social disparities in our country. Black and brown men are disproportionally incarcerated under our current drug laws, and because mass incarceration breaks up families and severely limits ex-convicts' employment and business opportunities, the War on Drugs has dramatically increased the poverty rate in minority communities....
To be sure, the War on Drugs is a much bigger and more complex issue than marijuana legalization alone, but it is a good place to start. State legal cannabis is now a $6 billion industry that employs 150,000 people and is on track to create more jobs than the manufacturing sector by 2020.
It has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue; California alone is forecasting $1 billion annually. Two decades of state legal marijuana also has shaped public opinion, with record numbers of Americans now supporting legalization. A recent poll from Quinnipiac University shows 94 percent of U.S. voters support medical marijuana programs, and 60 percent favor full legalization.
In today's divided politics, few issues command such unanimous support. Medical marijuana is legal both in red and blue states. The first ever Congressional Cannabis Caucus, announced earlier this year, is made up of two Democrats and two Republicans. And in the cannabis industry social justice and business interests are often aligned, with advocates and entrepreneurs standing shoulder to shoulder against reactionary policies such as the ones proposed by Mr. Sessions.
If he has his way on marijuana, Mr. Sessions threatens to turn back the clock on two decades of painstakingly gained progress, bringing us back to the days of overflowing prisons, disenfranchised communities and a $50 billion black market for cannabis run by drug cartels. We must not allow that to happen.
July 18, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
"Mapping medical marijuana: State laws regulating patients, product safety, supply chains and dispensaries, 2017"
The title of this post is the title of this useful new article in the publication Addiction authored by numerous researchers. Here is the article's abstract:
1) To describe open source legal datasets, created for research use, that capture the key provisions of U.S. state medical marijuana laws. The data document how state lawmakers have regulated a medicine that remains, under federal law, a Schedule I illegal drug with no legitimate medical use. 2) To demonstrate the variability that exists across states in rules governing patient access, product safety, and dispensary practice.
Two legal researchers collected and coded state laws governing marijuana patients, product safety, and dispensaries in effect on February 1, 2017, creating three empirical legal datasets. We used summary tables to identify the variation in specific statutory provisions specified in each state's medical marijuana law as it existed on February 1, 2017. We compared aspects of these laws to the traditional Federal approach to regulating medicine. Full datasets, codebooks and protocols are available through the Prescription Drug Abuse Policy System (http://www.pdaps.org/ ; http://www.webcitation.org/6qv5CZNaZ).
Twenty-eight states (including the District of Columbia) have authorized medical marijuana. Twenty-seven specify qualifying diseases, which differ across states. All but two protect patient privacy; only 14 protect patients against discrimination. Eighteen states have mandatory product safety testing before any sale. While the majority have package/label regulations, states have a wide range of specific requirements. Most regulate dispensaries (25 states), with considerable variation in specific provisions such as permitted product supply sources (23 states), number of dispensaries per state (18 states) and restricting proximity to various types of location (21 states).
The federal ban in the USA on marijuana has resulted in a patchwork of regulatory strategies that are not uniformly consistent with the approach usually taken by the Federal government and whose effectiveness remains unknown.
July 12, 2017 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, July 5, 2017
The title of this post is the headline of this reader-friendly piece by Craig Nard at The Conversation about the intersection of marijuana reform and intellectual property law. Here is how the piece gets started:
It’s hard to make sense of cannabis regulation.
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) continues to categorize marijuana as a Schedule I drug. That means the government believes it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” putting it in the same league as LSD and heroin. The Trump administration has expressly voiced skepticism of marijuana’s medical benefits, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling them “hyped.” Yet, legal pot has become a multi-billion-dollar industry that stuffs the coffers of eight states where voters have approved its legal recreational use. And nearly 30 states have legalized pot for medicinal purposes so far.
This burgeoning industry has also witnessed the issuance of dozens of patents related to cannabinoids and various strains of cannabis, including ones on marijuana-laced lozenges, plant-breeding techniques and methods for making pot-spiked beverages. Some of these products contain a significant amount of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that makes people high.
As a professor who researches and teaches in the area of patent law, I have been monitoring how private companies are quietly securing these patents on cannabis-based products and methods of production, even though marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug. An even richer irony is that the government itself has patented a method of “administering a therapeutically effective amount of a cannabinoids.”
This engagement with the patent system raises several interesting questions as the legal pot industry grows and medical research on cannabis advances.
Saturday, July 1, 2017
As reported in this lengthy local article, headlined "Nevada celebrates first legal recreation marijuana sales," today was officially a big day for marijuana reform in the Silver State. Here are the details:
A sense of jubilee was in the air midnight Saturday, and so too was the occasional whiff of Nevada's newest cash crop. Hundreds of Nevadans stood in line at midnight and throughout the day Saturday as Nevada became the fifth state in the U.S. to have legal recreational marijuana sales.
"Right at 12:01 a.m., they already have my transaction ready so that I can be the first in the state," said Todd Weatherhead, the first person in line at Sierra Wellness Connection in Reno. Weatherhead, a cultivation and production manager at a Reno cultivation facility, High Sierra Holistics, had been waiting in line since 4:20 p.m. Friday, he said....
Inside the dispensaries, "budtenders" took wads of cash in exchange for tightly sealed, opaque white Ziploc bags containing everything from joints to gummies to oils. As eager patrons jaunted in one by one, Sierra Wellness started running out of $1 bills, requiring a visit to a men's club down the street for more change....
Although Nevadan voters approved Question 2 to legalize recreational marijuana in November, voters twice before had proved themselves not quite ready. Nevada had the chance to become the first state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2002, but voters turned it down. In 2006, they repeated themselves. In November, voters turned the tables and approved Question 2, allowing anyone 21 and older with a valid ID to buy up to an ounce of pot and one-eighth of an ounce of concentrate.
In Reno, four dispensaries -- including Sierra Wellness, Blüm, The Dispensary and Mynt -- are now selling recreational marijuana, and up to 40 statewide are estimated to have their licenses, the Associated Press reported. All of the Reno dispensaries had lines around the building Saturday, throughout the day. "We are the new Amsterdam. We are the new Denver. Nevada is going to be the gold standard for marijuana starting at midnight," said Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, who is known among industry leaders as the "Cannabis King" or the "Godfather of marijuana" in Nevada.
Segerblom made the first purchase at The Source dispensary at a strip mall in Las Vegas, according to the Associated Press. Segerblom was a key proponent of Nevada executing what is now the fastest turnaround between a vote and sales, faster than the other states that voted to legalize in November. California, Maine and Massachusetts will be following suit soon, in the footsteps of Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, but Nevada could see the most hefty out-of-the-gate sales of any state so far.
The millions of tourists who visit Reno, Las Vegas and other Nevada cities every year are expected to account for about two-thirds of the purchases.
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval has budgeted $69 million in revenue from the industry in the next two years. Money from the 15 percent cultivation tax on all marijuana product in the state will go toward schools, and the 10 percent tax collected from recreational marijuana upon sale will go toward the state's rainy day fund....
Reno's Alisha White, 38, stood in the line at Sierra Wellness to show moral support for her brother and daughter even though she doesn't smoke. “My daughter started to have seizures two years ago,” she said. “I gave her some marijuana, and it helped her. “Marijuana helps people in pain. I’ve watched it change people’s lives.”
Many of the middle-aged attendees who stood in line on Saturday feel like they've waited forever for July 1. "You always had to hide it," said Randy McCuster, 60, who's been smoking since the age of 13. "I smoked pot in the basement and it would come up out of the sink and my mom would stomp on the floor... She was something."
Thursday, June 22, 2017
The title of this post is the title of this terrific (and lengthy) article in National Affairs authored by Jonathan Caulkins. Every serious student of marijuana reform ought to read the whole piece, and here are excerpts that highlight just a fee of the many astute observations herein:
The concern with cheap marijuana is not that tens of millions more Americans might smoke marijuana once or twice a week. That would not matter much, because occasional use is, by and large, not terribly harmful. Rather, the concern is that millions more would become habitual users. Over the last decade or so of liberalizing policy, the number of people who report using marijuana at some point within the past year has increased moderately, but the number reporting heavy use has soared. In 1992, fewer than one million Americans self-reported daily or near-daily use of marijuana; by 2014, the figure had ballooned to 7.8 million. Half of the marijuana used in the U.S. is consumed by people who spend more than half their waking hours intoxicated.
Whatever one thinks about the long-term consequences of chronic heavy use, acute marijuana intoxication can interfere with the ability to perform useful and even necessary tasks. Marijuana is not a cognitive-performance enhancer. And while we welcome low prices for most consumer goods — if health care and rent were cheap, it would make life a lot easier for most people — that approach may not apply to "temptation goods." Suppose people could buy essentially unlimited candy and desserts for 50 cents a day. Would that be a good thing? Maybe not. Lots of Americans already struggle with their weight, and consumption tends to go up when prices fall.
Libertarians may want prices to be as low as possible even for temptation goods. But the internalities argument goes as follows: Marijuana is a dependence-inducing intoxicant that leads many users to systematically make bad decisions that harm themselves as well as third parties; more than four million Americans report suffering enough problems with chronic marijuana use to meet clinical criteria for a substance-use disorder.
Chronic drug use involves repeatedly ingesting chemicals that bind to one's neuro-receptors — literally altering the brain in ways that are visible in brain scans. Changes in the brain's reward circuitry can compromise the neural system that normally helps rational actors successfully negotiate free markets. Even if each dose considered on its own seems appealing, regular drug consumption can leave long-term users regretful. The phrase "drugs hijack the brain" is sensationalistic, but not altogether wrong. So there is nothing illogical about adopting a libertarian perspective toward conventional consumer goods but making an exception for temptation goods, particularly for artificially introduced neurotransmitters and their chemical cousins.
To be sure, taxing to protect the minority for whom cheap marijuana would trigger habitual use is paternalistic, and it sacrifices the interests of the majority whose use would not create such problems. But the sacrifice would not be large: A $5-per-gram tax would cost someone who smokes a half-gram joint every weekend only $125 a year. Furthermore, the taxes would not actually increase out-of-pocket costs, but merely lessen the decline in price that would inevitably accompany federal legalization. So even with high taxes, legalization would still save marijuana users money.
June 22, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
As reported in this Washington Post piece, "Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed a decree this week legalizing medical marijuana." Here is more:
The measure also classified the psychoactive ingredient in the drug as “therapeutic.” The new policy isn't exactly opening the door for medical marijuana dispensaries on every corner. Instead it calls on the Ministry of Health to draft and implement regulations and public policies regulating “the medicinal use of pharmacological derivatives of cannabis sativa, indica and Americana or marijuana, including tetrahydrocannabinol.” It also tasks the ministry with developing a research program to study the drug's impact before creating broader policies.
The measure had broad support from Mexico's Senate and Lower House of Congress, where it passed 347-7 in April. Marijuana legalization advocates are celebrating the decision and calling on the government to do more. Sen. Miguel Barbosa said the legislation was “well below the expectations of society.” Sen. Armando Rios Peter called it a “tiny” step away from a failed drug policy.
For decades, Latin America has struggled to address the rampant corruption and violence wrought by the drug trade. Lately, many places have focused on a particular strategy: decriminalization. As my colleague Josh Partlow wrote last year: “Uruguay has fully legalized weed for sale. And a large chunk of South and Central America, including Brazil, Peru, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Costa Rica, have made marijuana more available in varying ways, whether it is for medicinal or recreational use.” It's a recognition, he wrote, that “years of violent struggle have failed to stem the flow of narcotics into the United States.”...
Recreational marijuana is still broadly prohibited in Mexico, but the government is considering a measure that would let citizens legally possess up to an ounce of it. In 2015, Mexico's Supreme Court granted four people the right to grow their own marijuana for personal consumption. The ruling set a precedent that could accelerate efforts to pass legislation permitting broader use of pot. “Absolute prohibition is excessive and doesn’t protect the right to health,” Justice Olga Sánchez Cordero said at the time.
Peña Nieto, who once was a vocal opponent of drug legalization, has undergone a similar shift in thinking. He has said that addiction should be thought of as a “public health problem” and that users should not be criminalized. He has also advocated for the United States and Mexico to follow similar policies on drug use and marijuana legislation.
Monday, June 12, 2017
AG Jeff Sessions has urged Congress to end limit on DOJ appropriations concerning state-compliant medical marijuana actors
In this new MassRoots posting, Tom Angell reports on a notable letter sent by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to member of Congress back in May. Here are the details (with a bit of my emphasis added):
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is asking Congressional leaders not to renew a current federal law that prevents the Department of Justice from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws. “I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” Sessions wrote in a letter to Republican and Democratic House and Senate leadership. “The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”
The letter, sent to Capitol Hill last month, was shared with MassRoots by a Congressional staffer. The protections are the result of a rider — known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, after its lead Congressional sponsors — which has been enacted into law with strong bipartisan votes for the past three fiscal years, including the current one.
But when President Trump signed a Fiscal Year 2017 omnibus appropriations bill into law last month, he issued a signing statement that essentially reserved the right to ignore the medical marijuana protections. “I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” he wrote. And when the president made his first full budget request to Congress, he did not include an extension of the provision.
While President Obama never issued a signing statement concerning the provision, he did suggest that Congress delete it in his last two budget requests. And the Obama Justice Department took the position that the budget rider only prevented the government from stopping states from implementing their laws and did not provide any protections to patients or providers who are acting in accordance with those policies.
But last year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled, over the Justice Department’s objection, that the measure does in fact prevent federal prosecutors from pursuing cases against state-legal medical cannabis patients, growers and dispensaries. However, the ruling only applies to the nine states and two territories that fall under the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction.
“As a result, in the Ninth Circuit, many individuals and organizations that are operating in violation of the CSA and causing harm in their communities may invoke the rider to thwart prosecution,” Sessions wrote in the new letter to Congress....
In the new letter to Congress, the attorney general wrote that marijuana use has “significant negative health effects,” arguing that is “linked to an increased risk of psychiatric disorders such as psychosis, respiratory ailments such as lung infections, cognitive impairments such as IQ loss, and substance use disorder and addiction.”
Congress is now considering appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2018, and marijuana law reform advocates are pushing to include the state medical cannabis protections again as well as add broader new ones that would cover full recreational legalization laws. “I respectfully request that you oppose the inclusion of such language in Department appropriations,” Sessions wrote to the Capitol Hill leaders.
On Tuesday, relevant House and Senate appropriations subcommittees will take testimony about the Justice Department’s budget request from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Sessions was initially slated to testify but will instead appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee to discuss the ongoing investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The line I emphasized highlights that this newly-unearthed Sessions letter does not mark a huge departure from the position of the Justice Department under Prez Obama. Nevertheless, this letter, which stresses research on the harmfulness of marijuana and suggests that criminal organizations seek to hide within state marijuana regulatory regimes, reinforces the notion that AG Jeff Sessions is not too eager to allow state marijuana reform regimes to operate without significant possible federal review and oversight.
June 12, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Vermont Governor vetoes bill to legalize marijuana in state .... UPDATED with Gov's explanation for his veto
As reported in this local article, "Gov. Phil Scott on Wednesday vetoed legislation that would have legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in Vermont." Here is more:
At a highly anticipated press conference in his Montpelier office, the Republican governor said he could not sign S.22, which passed the Vermont House and Senate in the waning days of the recently concluded legislative session. But Scott said he was open to revisiting the debate with legislators — perhaps as soon as an expected veto session next month.
Vermont’s Democratic legislature is unlikely to override Scott’s veto, given that the bill squeaked through the House two weeks ago on a 79-66 vote.
The legislation would have allowed adults over age 21 to legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana and to grow as many as two mature plants per household, starting in July 2018. Similar to Washington, D.C.’s marijuana law, it would not have allowed for sale or commercial growing of the drug. The bill would also have created a commission to study how Vermont could tax and regulate marijuana sales, as Colorado and several other states have done.
The governor has said he does not consider marijuana legalization a priority and has concerns about the lack a roadside test to detect driver impairment.
Had Scott signed the bill, Vermont would have been the first state to legalize marijuana through legislative action rather by public referendum.
Prior related post:
UPDATE: I have now had a chance to read Vermont Gov. Phil Scott's remarks explaining his veto, and they are available at this link. Here are some of the interesting particulars:
I have been clear since the campaign and throughout the session: I am not philosophically opposed to ending the prohibition on marijuana, and I recognize there is a clear societal shift in that direction. However, I feel it is crucial that key questions and concerns involving public safety and health are addressed before moving forward.
We must get this right. Let the science inform any policy we make around this issue, learn from the experience of other states, and take whatever time is required to do so. In my view, policymakers have an obligation to all Vermonters – and those who visit us – to address health, safety, prevention and education questions before committing the state to a specific timeline for moving forward.
More specifically – as I have said repeatedly throughout the campaign and this session – we should know how we will detect and measure impairment on our roadways, fund and implement additional substance abuse prevention education, keep our children safe and penalize those who do not, and measure how legalization impacts the mental health and substance abuse issues our communities are already facing.
From my vantage point, S.22 does not yet adequately address these questions. Therefore, I am returning this bill to the Legislature. I am, however, offering a path forward that takes a much more thorough look at what public health, safety and education policies are needed before Vermont moves toward a regulatory and revenue system for an adult-use marijuana market.
I’ll be providing the Legislature with recommended changes. And to be clear, if they are willing to work with me to address my concerns in a new bill passed during the veto session this summer, there is a path forward on this issue.
Those recommendations include the following:
First, in its attempt to equate marijuana with alcohol. This bill appears to weaken penalties for the dispensing and sale of marijuana to minors. Sections of this bill must be rewritten to make clear that existing penalties for the dispensing and sale of marijuana to minors and on school grounds remain unchanged.
Weakening these protections and penalties should be totally unacceptable to even the most ardent legalization advocates.
Second, I am asking for changes to more aggressively penalize consumption while driving, and usage in the presence of minors....
Third, the Marijuana Regulatory Commission section must be enhanced in order to be taken seriously. It must include a broader membership, including representatives from the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Health, the Department of Taxes, and the substance abuse prevention and treatment community. The Commission must be charged with determining outcomes, such as an impairment threshold for operating a motor vehicle; an impairment testing mechanism; an education and prevention strategy to address use by minors; and a plan for continued monitoring and reporting on impacts to public health.
May 24, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
This lengthy new BuzzFeed News article, headlined ""Can Cannabis And Christ Coexist? These Devout Southern Christians Think So," provides am interesting and effectively review of some issues that arise at the intersection of marijuana reform and religion. I recommend the piece in full, and here are some extended excerpts:
Lydia Decker couldn’t miss the man in the motorized wheelchair as he whirred down the aisles of a West Texas grocery store. As someone with lung problems herself, she noticed his oxygen tank and wondered about his illness and his meds. They got talking, and Decker mentioned Genesis 1:29, the organization she heads that uses religion to preach the value of medical cannabis. This was one conversion that wasn't going to happen.
“Oh, that trash!” Decker remembered the man saying as she tried to reason with him in the pharmacy aisle. The nurse with the man “politely” asked Decker, who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, to leave. She did, but not before handing the nurse a Genesis 1:29 business card, which features a map of Texas covered with a large cannabis leaf and the words “One Mission End Prohibition!”...
Decker, 49, tells anyone in Texas who will listen why cannabis is, in fact, a permitted therapy for Christians — not a sin. She hopes her openness will help generate support for medical cannabis among state lawmakers, and in April she submitted passionate testimony in hopes of swaying them. She described being rushed to the ER, “gasping for air” on New Year’s Day in 2014, when her COPD was first diagnosed, and the blur of medications and treatments she's endured since then. “I live 80 miles from a legal state line,” Decker wrote, referring to New Mexico, where medical cannabis is permitted. She questioned why such treatment should be off-limits to her, “just because I choose to live and work in Texas, where I was born?”
Genesis 1:29, which Decker formed in 2010, is named after a Bible verse that’s oft-repeated by Christians in favor of medical marijuana: "And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” To Decker, a nondenominational Christian who follows the Bible’s verses in a literal way, it means that cannabis is “meant to be eaten, whether in oil, whether in an edible,” she said.
Obviously, not everyone in Texas is receptive to Decker’s interpretation of the Bible — none of the laws covering medical or recreational cannabis were likely to pass before the legislative session ends in late May. “People in the Bible Belt say, ‘You’re using the Bible to promote drugs,'” she said, drawing out the word “drugs” for emphasis. Decker disagrees. “We’re using the Bible to promote what God gave us. We say that God made the perfect medicine. Man is the one that made it illegal.”
The South is the last frontier for cannabis law reform. And it is no coincidence that it is also the most religious region in the country, according to Pew Research. It’s a place where interpretations of God’s word can be as powerful as law, and where preachers have long proclaimed the evils of marijuana. So as pot takes hold for medical use in more than half the country, and for recreational use in eight states and Washington, DC, both are nonstarters in much of the South. Only Arkansas, Florida, and West Virginia have full medical marijuana programs, and recreational use is not even on the horizon.
The president of the organization that represents the largest evangelical group in the US won’t budge on calling marijuana a sin. “The scripture speaks against drunkenness, and marijuana is a mind-altering substance with the purpose of achieving, essentially, what the Bible would describe as drunkenness,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
To get the votes they need, pro-legalization groups can't just preach to nonbelievers; they also need to court people of faith, says Morgan Fox of Marijuana Policy Project, a lobbying group that is behind most of the cannabis laws in the country. Support from religious groups has become as key as support from law enforcement groups, addiction specialists, and parent groups. “I know that most of the major policy reform organizations are working on that right now — trying to build coalitions with faith-based groups,” Fox said.
After all, marijuana has never been more popular with young people — recent polls show the 18–34 crowd overwhelmingly in support of legalization. At the same time, young people’s church attendance is dropping. As much as pro-pot groups need religious support, religious leaders need to hold onto their flocks, and sometimes that means loosening opinions on controversial issues.
In Utah last year, the Church of Latter-day Saints weighed in on competing medical cannabis bills and made the unprecedented move of expressing support for one, albeit by backing the stricter of two pieces of legislation. And a group of Muslim undergraduate students at the University of South Florida, where medical marijuana was on the state ballot, tackled the question of whether cannabis use is haram last year during an event called "Contemporary Issues in Islam: A Discussion on Medical Marijuana.” Some faiths have expressed varying degrees of support for medical marijuana, including the Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Unitarian churches. In New York, one of the first medical marijuana dispensaries had the cannabis blessed by a rabbi. And globally, to respect the traditional use of cannabis by Rastafarians, Jamaica legalized cannabis for religious use in 2015.
But to bring cannabis to the region of the US where states are deeply red and religious and where pot is both a social taboo and a ticket to jail, Decker and others are harnessing their devotion to their faiths to evangelize for it....
Still, religious opposition continues to influence drug policy throughout the region. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention spoke out against the nine legalization initiatives put before voters in November. “I think when it comes to marijuana I’m, of course, for criminal penalties for marijuana use and for continuing criminalization of marijuana,” Moore told BuzzFeed News, specifying, though, that he is not in favor of the “incoherent mass incarceration that we’ve had as a result of the drug war.”
The Catholic Church has also come out against legalization; in 2014, Pope Francis remarked that "drug addiction is an evil” and “attempts, however limited, to legalize so-called 'recreational drugs,' are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects.” The Catholic diocese in Arizona and Massachusetts came out against legalization in fall 2016. While this “didn’t swing the pendulum in Massachusetts,” where legalization squeaked through in November, “it very well could have in Arizona,” where legalization failed, Fox said.
May 16, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Religion | Permalink | Comments (15)
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
The title of this post is the headline of this local article reporting on very big news out of the Green Mountain State. Here are the details:
Vermont’s Legislature has become the first in the nation to approve a recreational marijuana legalization bill.
Vermont's bill, which would legalize small amounts of marijuana possession in 2018 and anticipate the possibility of a taxed and regulated legal marijuana market, was approved by the Vermont House of Representatives on Wednesday afternoon by a vote of 79-66. The bill has already been passed by the Senate and will go directly to Gov. Phil Scott.
Other states have legalized marijuana following a voter referendum, but no state has yet legalized marijuana solely through the legislative process, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures....
Wednesday's vote closed a divisive debate over legalization, particularly in the House, that once prompted Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe to predict that legalization would take a "miracle" to pass this year. Earlier in the day, the House Judiciary Committee voted 8-3 to support the limited bill, which was pitched as a compromise between the House and Senate approaches on marijuana.
The proposal incorporates H.170, the House-supported bill that would legalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, two mature marijuana plants or four immature marijuana plants for adults over 21. The effective date has been pushed back one year until July 1, 2018. The bill also sets up a nine-member commission to study the best way to regulate marijuana in the future.
"There's no slam dunk of any kind," said Rep. Barbara Rachelson, D-Burlington, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, speaking about the prospect of a legal marijuana market. "It just is doing work that could be used next year or in subsequent years." The proposal would continue to prohibit driving under the influence of marijuana and the use of marijuana in public places. Employers, landlords, schools and prisons could continue to restrict marijuana use.
Monday, May 1, 2017
The Colorado Springs Gazette, which has tended to take a skeptical/critical perspective on marijuana reform in Colorado, has this big new series of big new articles under the banner "State of Marijuana." Here are the headlines and links:
May 1, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
The title of this post is how West Academic Publishing is promoting its latest notable nutshell publication authored by Mark Osbeck and Howard Bromberg. In part because I think it is near impossible to summarize modern marijuana law in short form, I view this nutshell effort as extraordinary in various respects. And here is how West briefly describes the product:
Concise yet comprehensive text that provides an overview of marijuana law. It discusses important issues pertaining to public policy, legal history, constitutional law, criminal law, and jurisprudence, as well as practical legal issues that concern both marijuana-related businesses and individuals, in areas such as banking, employment, tax, bankruptcy, and child custody.
The text provides in-depth coverage of federal laws governing marijuana, along with an overview of international, state, and local laws relating to marijuana regulation. It also provides an overview of arguments for and against medical and/or recreational legalization, as well as an analysis of how marijuana compares to other potentially harmful substances, both legal and illegal.
April 26, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
As reported in this local article, headlined "WV governor signs medical marijuana into law," the latest state to reform its marijuana laws is the Mountain State. Here are the details:
Gov. Jim Justice signed a comprehensive medical marijuana bill into law Wednesday, wrapping up what might have been the legislative underdog story of the session. Justice signed Senate Bill 386, which will put a medical cannabis commission into place to begin forming the regulatory infrastructure for the Bureau of Public Health to begin issuing marijuana patient ID cards on July 1, 2019.
This action makes West Virginia the 29th state to legalize medical marijuana.
Surrounded by Democratic legislators who helped push the bill through, Justice said the law will help those who are suffering obtain access to a treatment approved by the medical community. “Our doctors are telling us, this is a pathway to help those people [who are suffering],” Justice said. “How could you turn your back on that? How could you turn your back on a loved one who is really suffering? To have a vehicle to be able to help, and to turn our back on it and say, ‘No, we’re not going to do that.’ To me, that’s not listening to the wise, and it’s not being charitable and caring, like we ought to be.”
The new law will allow patients suffering from 16 conditions to apply for a card with permission from their doctor, who must be approved to recommend marijuana by the Board of Public Health. Acceptable conditions include terminal illnesses, cancer, HIV or AIDS and Parkinson’s disease.
The law does not allow patients to grow or smoke marijuana. Only a licensed dispensary can issue marijuana in the form of pills, oils, topicals (gels, creams, ointments), tincture, liquid, dermal patch or non-whole plant forms for administration through a vaporizer or nebulizer.
Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, who sponsored the legislation and served as its point man, said he thinks the bill will help ease suffering of fellow veterans who have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and simultaneously cut into the state’s opioid crisis, by taking money out of illegal drug dealers’ pockets.
Sporting a cannabis leaf-shaped pin on the breast of his jacket, Nitro resident Rusty Williams watched Justice sign the bill. Williams survived a late-stage diagnosis of testicular cancer. He said his doctors prescribed him aggressive doses of chemotherapy to combat the cancer, and he used illegally purchased marijuana to help him handle the treatments....
Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, said that, although some might be frustrated by the gap between the bill’s passage versus its 2019 full activation date, it will be a good thing for the state to not botch such a promising, although complex, initiative. He said other states have tried to shoot the moon and get things rolling prematurely, and it only served to their detriment. Woelfel also pointed out that the Legislature can revisit the bill in any session down the road and add to it, as needed.
Monday, April 17, 2017
The Denver Post, as highlighted here, this past weekend had a section of its "Sunday Perspective" focused on marijuana reform. Included among the section's contributors were "former Cannabist editor Ricardo Baca, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, Greenwood Village Police Chief John Jackson, L’Eagle grow and dispensary owner Amy Andrle, Kayvan Khalatbari co-founder of Denver Relief Consulting, and former teachers turned science-based marijuana curriculum developers Sarah Grippa and Molly Lotz." Here are the headlines of the pieces with links:
April 17, 2017 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, April 13, 2017
As reported in this National Post piece, headlined "Liberals introduce long-awaited bills to legalize marijuana by July 2018," legislative leaders in Canada have finally put forward a full bill to legalize marijuana in that nation. Here are the basics:
The federal Liberal government has finally launched its long-awaited effort to legalize recreational marijuana, setting in motion a host of sweeping policy changes for public safety and health across Canada.
The suite of bills — which would establish 18 as the minimum legal age to buy pot — was introduced in the House of Commons by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, Health Minister Jane Philpott and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
A government news release promises a “strict legal framework” for the production, sale, distribution and possession of pot, and says selling cannabis to a minor would for the first time become a specific criminal offence.
It also promises “significant penalties” for those who engage young Canadians in “cannabis-related offences” and a “zero-tolerance approach” to drug-impaired driving....
The bills are sure to come under heavy scrutiny in the coming weeks and months as Ottawa and the provinces and territories hash out the finer jurisdictional details of major issues like distribution and law enforcement. Health Minister Jane Philpott says criminalizing cannabis has not deterred use among young people, noting products like alcohol and tobacco are legally available with restrictions.
Once passed, the Liberal bills introduced today would make Canada the first member of the G7 to legalize marijuana for recreational use across the country.
There are lots of reasons this is a very big deal, though I do not know enough about Canadian politics to predict with any certainty whether it is really likely that marijuana will be fully legal and a consumer product in just a little over a year. Particulars aside, if Canada is truly on a certain path to full legalization in the not-too-distinct future, I think marijuana-reform-friendly states that border Canada – particularly Michigan, New Hampshire and Vermont – have yet another reason to seriously consider full legalization in order to avoid the likelihood of lots of US citizens heading up north to get legal marijuana.
Monday, April 10, 2017
A student in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar this week is helping the class look back on the law, policies and perceptions surrounding marijuana many decades ago. Here are the links this student has assembled in preparation for his presentation this coming week:
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
West Virginia seemingly poised to become latest medical marijuana state (and first new one in the Trump era)
This new local article, headlined "Medical marijuana bill passes WV House; Senate likely to concur," reports on some interesting and notable marijuana reform news out of the Mountain State. Here are the basic details:
A bill that would permit the use of medical marijuana in West Virginia was approved by the House of Delegates on Tuesday.
The bill (SB 386), which would have created a West Virginia Cannabis Commission charged with overseeing medical marijuana regulation in the state, passed the Senate last week.On Monday, the House of Delegates amended the bill so that instead of a commission, it would create an advisory board within the state Department of Health and Human Resources’ Bureau for Public Health. They also made several other changes.
In a 51-48 vote, delegates approved an amendment by Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer and House Judiciary chairman, that would prohibit smoking, ban people from growing their own plants, and charge $100,000 annual fees for growers and processors. That fee was cut in half during a late-night floor session.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael said this afternoon that the Senate plans to concur with the House’s changes. Jacque Bland, spokeswoman for the Senate, said that likely won’t occur until Wednesday. “That’s our expectation, unless we find something that is just totally out of bounds in this bill,” Carmichael said. “We trust the House of Delegates and Chairman Shott’s work on this piece of legislation.”
If it occurs, the governor would still need to sign the bill for it to become law, and no patient identification cards would be issued until July of 2019....
The bill defines serious health conditions as cancer, HIV or AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity, epilepsy, neuropathies, Huntington’s disease, Crohn’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, intractable seizures, sickle cell anemia, severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin or intractable pain in which conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or has proven ineffective, or having a medical prognosis of one year or less.
The bureau would regulate medical cannabis in the state, review physician applications, issue permits to growers, dispensaries and processors, maintain an electronic database to include “activities and information relating to medical cannabis organizations certifications and identification cards issued, practitioner registration and electronic tracking of all medical cannabis,” and maintain a directory of patients and caregivers to whom it has issued ID cards.
Thursday, March 30, 2017
Should anyone get excited about the new "Path to Marijuana Reform" bills just introduced in Congress?
The question in the title of this post was my first reaction to this big new Cannabist story headlined "Bipartisan 'Path to Marijuana Reform' bills introduced to decriminalize, protect, regulate cannabis industry." The piece has the subheadline "Three marijuana-related bills address issues such as taxation, banking, civil forfeiture, de-scheduling, decriminalization, research, individual protections and regulation," and here are the basics:
U.S. lawmakers on Thursday introduced a package of marijuana reform bills aimed at protecting and preserving existing state-based programs while laying framework for the federal regulation of cannabis. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, announced the “Path to Marijuana Reform,” a bipartisan package of three marijuana-related bills that address issues such as taxation, banking, civil forfeiture, de-scheduling, decriminalization, research, individual protections and regulation. Included in the package is the reintroduction of legislation from Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colorado, to regulate marijuana like alcohol.
“The federal government must respect the decision Oregonians made at the polls and allow law-abiding marijuana businesses to go to the bank just like any other legal business.” Wyden said in a statement, referencing the legalization efforts in his home state and those made elsewhere. “This three-step approach will spur job growth and boost our economy all while ensuring the industry is being held to a fair standard.”
The Path to Marijuana Reform includes the following bills, according to the announcement from Wyman and Blumenauer:
The Small Business Tax Equity Act — Create an exception to Internal Revenue Code section 280E that would allow businesses compliant with state laws to claim deductions and credits associated with the sale of marijuana. Currently, under 280E, people and businesses cannot claim deductions or credits for the sale of Schedule I or Schedule II substances. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, is a cosponsor of Wyden’s Senate bill and Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Florida, is sponsoring companion legislation in the House.
Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act — Remove federal penalties and civil asset forfeiture for individuals and businesses complying with state law; ensure access to banking, bankruptcy protection, research and advertising; expunge the criminal records for certain marijuana-related offenses; prohibits residents of marijuana-legal states to be required to take a marijuana drug test for positions in the federal civil service; and easing barriers for medical marijuana research.
Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act (Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act) — Remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act; impose an excise tax regime on marijuana products; allow for the permitting for marijuana businesses; regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. Rep. Polis is sponsoring a portion of this legislation in the House.
I am pleased to see additional federal legislative action in this space, but I have little reason to be hopeful that these reform bills will have any more chance of moving forward than a host of other like marijuana reform bill that have previously been put forward in recent years. I am certain that the pro-reform results of so many 2016 ballot initiatives helps keep the marijuana reform momentum moving, but I do not think this momentum has yet built to the point that anyone should get excited about these new bill becoming law anytime very soon.
March 30, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)
Friday, March 24, 2017
Though a number of folks in a number of ways have brought a critical race perspective to discussion of marijuana law, policy and reform, I still think this topic always merits even more extensive and thoughtful attention. Thus, I am very pleased that a student in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar is planned a presentation on racial issues surrounding marijuana reform. And here are materials this student sent my way in preparation for the class presentation and discussion next week:
Seattle Times article, "Minorities, punished most by war on drugs, underrepresented in legal pot"
Huffington Post commentary, "A Big Shift Is Necessary to Successfully Market Cannabis to Minorities"
March 24, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)